Black History Month: Celebrating Len Elmore
Spry is thrilled to celebrate the many successful African Americans in the sports industry. We are proud to work with many of these men and women and can’t wait to share their stories and successes with you!
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Len Elmore. Having been an NBA player, attorney, sports agent, sports analyst and currently a lecturer at Columbia University, Len Elmore is a man of many talents.
Below is a summary of our conversation:
Please give me a brief history of your life/career.
“I was born in Brooklyn, NY. My father was a native New Yorker, but my mother was from Louisiana. Education was something that was always important to my family, but not always attainable. My mother Graduated #2 in her high school class and earned a scholarship to Southern University, but due to her family’s financial situation she needed to work and was unable to accept the scholarship. After high school my father joined the Army and fought in the occupational forces in Japan in World War II. Even though they didn’t have the opportunity to attain formal education, they viewed education as a means to better our situation. These lessons resonated with me as I was constantly in pursuit of knowledge. I loved to read, study history, etc. and I’ve maintained that intellectual curiosity to this day.” On his development as an athlete, Elmore stated, “My basketball career started relatively late. I didn’t start playing until I was 14. I went to Power Memorial High School at 15. Since that was also the same high school that Lew Alcindor had attended, there were Inevitable comparisons.” While many might have withered under the pressure of following in the footsteps of a legend like Alcindor, Elmore thrived at Power Memorial, becoming a high school All-American. A highly recruited high school prospect, Elmore chose to attend the University of Maryland where he would later team up with notable teammates such as John Lucas and Tom McMillen.
Elmore enjoyed a standout career at Maryland, earning All-America honors as a senior in 1974. After being selected in the 1st round of both the NBA and ABA drafts, he opted to sign with the ABA’s Indiana Pacers. Following the merger of the ABA and NBA in 1976, Elmore suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the majority of his third pro season. According to Elmore, “that was when I realized I’m not going to play this game all my life, so I’d better be prepared for the day when my career comes to an end.” Though he would go on to enjoy a 10-year pro career, he never abandoned his academic pursuits. In the summer of 1983 while a member of the New York Knicks, Elmore decided to take the LSAT, entertaining a lifelong dream to become a lawyer. “As a child, I was fascinated by shows like Perry Mason growing up, and with the civil rights movement at its pinnacle and social issues like Vietnam gripping the nation, I thought lawyers could have an impact on society.” At the urging of his future wife, he decided to apply to Harvard Law School. Ironically, he received his acceptance to Harvard during a road trip when the Knicks were in Boston for a game against the Celtics. While in town, he took a train over to Cambridge to visit the campus. Following the trip he said, “I felt I could see myself there.” So despite having another year on his contract with the Knicks, Elmore made the decision to retire from basketball at the conclusion of the 1983-84 season and begin law school. To date, he remains the only NBA player to attend and graduate from Harvard Law School. After graduating from Harvard, he turned down a number of corporate law jobs stating, “rather than just make a lot of money, I wanted to truly have an impact.” Instead, he accepted a position working with Elizabeth Holden, the DA in his hometown of Brooklyn. There, Elmore would indeed go about making a difference, prosecuting cases of police misconduct and other issues championing the cause of social justice. It was around this time that the next professional door was about to open for Elmore, when a reference from Billy Packer led to being hired by Raycom Sports as a color commentator. This would be the beginning of a career as a basketball analyst that continues to this day. Never content to limit his reach to a single endeavor, Elmore also went on to start his own sports agency, was the CEO of an education technology company that sought to provide high school competency test prep to underrepresented community school districts and later, became the CEO of iHoops, an online joint venture between NCAA and NBA aimed at empowering aspiring young athletes. Elmore remains an active leader on other fronts, serving as co-chair of the Knight Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics where he continues to help lead efforts to improve the experience of student-athletes with regard to the education, health, safety and success, including racial equity, gender equity and mental health. Currently, Elmore serves as a lecturer in Sport Management at Columbia University, where among the courses he teaches is entitled “Athlete Activism for Social Justice”, tracing the history of athlete activism against the social, economic and political backdrop of American history.
Your career has been multi-faceted; What inspired you to pursue your various professional ventures?
The story of Paul Robeson had a profound impact on me. I greatly admired the fact that he overcame the racism and prejudices of his times and yet was accomplished in so many different arenas. A Phi Beta Kappa, Rutgers University valedictorian, all-American athlete, an accomplished actor and vocalist as well as a law school graduate and human rights activist. He was a true renaissance man and he inspired me to follow suit.
What advice would you offer young professionals today?
“Money and celebrity are not the key to happiness. Family, service, self-love are the things that you look back on as a life well lived.”
Finish the sentence, The most rewarding professional experience I’ve had was_________?
“It’s hard to identify one thing, however, while in college I had the chance to start a community service program in Seat Pleasant, which is in Prince George’s County, Maryland This was a grassroots effort to mentor young people in the local community and some of my most gratifying moments have been when I cross paths with some of these men and women decades later and see that they have gone on to have tremendous success in life. I don’t take responsibility for their success but it is certainly rewarding to know that maybe, I was able to contribute in steering someone along the right path.” Elmore would later receive the Model Citizen Award at University of Maryland in part, for his commitment to community service.
“I also found great satisfaction in the work I was able to do as a sports agent. I felt like I was able to help a number of young professional athletes navigate a difficult process and we did it the right way. Everyone with whom I worked continue to enjoy post-career success and there were no tragic stories, so I feel really good about that.
On Duke vs. Kentucky
“I was there to do a job and to help bring the game to life. I really wasn’t trying to do anything else beyond that. It was only after the fact that we realized the significance that game would take on. I was honored to have a courtside seat to such a historic game and also to be able to call a game with the great Vern Lundquist, who is a legendary announcer. One of the things that stood out to me from that game was not only Christian Laettner’s iconic shot, but also the fact that he was a perfect 10 for 10 from the field and 9 for 9 from the free throw line. It also struck me that there were such transformational, multi-faceted athletes in that game like Jamal Mashburn and Grant Hill, who would really go on to redefine the way the game was played.”
While Elmore acknowledges the historic significance of this game, he noted that he also played in a game that is arguably considered the greatest college basketball game of all time when his Maryland team lost an epic 103-100 overtime battle against NC State in 1974.
What Black History Month Means To Me…
“Black History Month is about documenting the accomplishments of men and women who through their efforts and struggles helped advance the cause of equality and equity while being attuned to the needs of others. It’s about using those actions and accomplishments to uplift and instill pride while setting a current agenda for change. Because when there is a clear agenda, people will use the past heroic acts and step up and be that change. Black History is about honoring those men and women who have laid it on the line in the service of others.”
In his remarkable life Len Elmore has done all of these things. He is a man of great conscience and character who has never been afraid to step up and be an agent for change, and it is for these reasons that Spry is proud to highlight his accomplishments as a part of our Black History Month celebration!